Principles of Training

Training to improve performance must obey the fundamental principles of training: specificity, overload, recovery, adaptation and reversibility.


Specificity is a very  important principle in training. Basically it say you have to do the thing you want to improve at to get better, so to get better at swimming you need to swim. Your swimming will not improve by running around a track or peddling around on your bike or by playing football, rugby tennis etc.  Why is this?

Well by swimming you will make changes in the muscle structures themselves to make them better at processing the energy sources you need. You will also improve the way your nervous system fires those muscles to develop the correct forces at the correct timing needed to swim. This is also why we try to make sure the land training exercises have a focus on either improving the swimming specific muscles themselves or the non-swimming muscles to try to stop imbalances occuring that might lead to injury through swimming.  

The swim training itself also gets very specific to event and distance. If you want to swim faster in races then you need to specifically train faster to develop the correct speed and co-ordination of movement. You need to train above, at or near race speeds, at least for some of the time. However, a lot of the training is endurance based trying to specifically adapt the body to process energy more efficiently.

Overload & Adaptation

This principle says that to get better, stronger or faster you need to push the body beyond the levels it is used to. When you do that if you give it time to recover it will adapt. The body will react to the training loads imposed by increasing its ability to cope with those loads. Adaptation occurs during the recovery period after the the training session is completed. By adapt I mean make fundamental changes to its function and structure that allow you to work harder and go faster.

 The real difficult bit is to apply the stress in a controlled and optimal way. This gets very difficult as everyone is an individual and what is overload for one person is an easy training load for another. This is why we try to group swimmers of similar abilities and adjust training sets across lanes. The other problem is the timing of the next training load, too soon and the body can break down, too late and you have missed your chance. We try to construct an optimal swim rogramme making an assumption that the swimmers attend the necessary sessions. If they miss sessions or do to many other stressful activities then their bodies may not adapt in an optimal way. 


In order to adapt after training, recovery is required and the body needs to do a number of things. It needs to replenish the fuel stores that were used during the exercise. It needs to ensure the muscles and nervous system recover back to their previous state and beyond. Recovery does not mean sleep, your muscles will recover from hard trainng by just resting them. Your fuel stores will replenish if you keep your activity levels low and get adequate nutrition and hydration.  As swim coaches we cannot control the recovery bit. That has to be the job of the parents and swimmers themselves.

Reversibility or Detraining

When training stops or reduces below a certain level, the training effects and adaptations also stop. Not only will the body stop adapting but the process will go into reverse and the adaptations will be lost. The effects of a long period of inactivity on physical fitness are significant.  For us this means that the minimum number of sessions per week to stand a chance of applying an adequate frequency of stress from training is 3/4 sessions. For optimal adaptation the number of sessions per week needs to increase. As we are dealing with young growing athletes then the optimal build up needs to be controlled and theasa recommend the principles of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model. The guidelines for the frequency and volume of training can be found here. Clearly these are guidelines and the development ages and stages of individual swimmers will vary wildly.